Looking back, why did people not approach the prospect of yearly Half-Life installments with the same suspicion as a Thomas Pynchon book signing or a Jeff Mangum world tour? (Okay, so every once in awhile these things work out.) Valve’s monolithic, twice decade-defining flagship franchise condescending to become serialized, expansion pack entertainments instead of rare magnum opuses is like your most brilliant, successful longtime friend suddenly frequenting your hometown bar: sure, his presence is appreciated, but wouldn’t you sacrifice constantly seeing him to know he was still on the move toward grander goals? Valve’s desire to create these episodes is understandable, perhaps even noble; both full-length Half-Life titles’ development cycles sound like living hells that would turn any programmer’s hair grey, if he didn’t tear it all out in the process. Plus, a desire to give the world Half-Life at a more frequent and inexpensive rate places them somewhere between Santa Claus and the dudes who invented Napster on my list of generous individuals.
The problem, however, is this is not the Valve way. The company is an ever-buzzing brain trust that isn’t happy unless its members are blasting down the walls fencing in game physics and storytelling, or redefining the distribution paradigm with Steam, or wondering what reality would look like through a stupid-looking pair of goggles. Valve the ideal is so much grander than Valve the developer that when it actually gets around to making a game anymore, that title must stand for the same ambition and playful futurism as the rest of the corporation’s endeavors. The Half-Life episodes were fated to choke on their creator’s chutzpah from the start, dwarfed by the never-ending possibilities and ceaseless perfectionism to which they were once thought an antidote. Continue reading